Leica Lenses

PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 and ShootNYC 2012

Welcome to my PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 (and ShootNYC 2012) coverage. This year did not bring too many shocking changes however there are still some noteworthy products, especially from lens makers Carl Zeiss and Schneider Optics (as well as others) which highlight good trends in photography for the next few years. It also features interviews with Multistitch, Nikon, Cokin Filters, Olympus, PhaseOne, and Hasselblad (ShootNYC).

PhaseOne

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I will be doing a full and In-depth review of PhaseOne CaptureOne 7 Pro in a week or so. However, until then, Doug Peterson from Digital Transitions introduces and goes through some of the key features and improvements in C1 7 Pro.

Carl Zeiss

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At Photokina 2012, Carl Zeiss announced a number of new products, and most notably two new series of lenses for markets that that they had not previously addressed. They also announced the 135mm f/2.0 APO-Sonnar lens which is available in both ZE (Canon) and ZF.2 (Nikon) mounts. This lens had only previously been available in the CP.2 cine series of lenses and is now re-housed like the rest of their prime lens series for 35mm cameras. Next, Carl Zeiss announced (at Photokina) the production of lenses for the Sony NEX mount as well as the Fuji X mount (for the X-Pro 1 and X-E1 digital cameras). These are in fact, all metal lenses, with superior optics as well as autofocus. Carl Zeiss’s 35mm lenses (excluding designs for Sony) have all been manual focus and this is a pleasant change. It is in fact good that they are recognizing that a) not everyone wants to shoot manual focus 100% of the time and b) that manual focus is sometimes less practical on smaller format cameras. The final and most interesting new series of lenses that Carl Zeiss has announced are their new line of high resolution lenses for digital cameras. The first lens they have announced in this series is the Distagon 55mm f/1.4 ZF.2 lens (which I believe will also be available in Canon mount). This is an outstanding lens, and I look forward to it as well as the other lenses that they will produce in this series. All of these lenses are excellent and show us that serious lens manufacturers are starting to see the potential in smaller formats, and are now producing lens for them like they have in the past. To a sceptic of the smaller formats like myself, this is an interesting development (especially in sub-35mm formats) because considering the pedigree of these companies and lineage of lenses they have produced, their nod of approval can be seen to offer confirmation of the quality of these smaller cameras. Of course, it could also be a directive from the business office to boost profits, but hey I guess I am an optimist. 

I have always enjoyed the 135mm focal length when I have had chances to shoot it. I say when I have had chances to shoot it because, I have not owned a 135mm lens ever. I have eyed the Nikon, Canon (and Leica) lenses of this focal length, however have not committed to them. The Nikon 135mm f/2.0 DC AF lens is outdated and due for an update with newer lens coatings, autofocus, and overall build quality. The newer Nikon 85mm f/1.4G is superior to the 85mm f/1.4D (I still have both but thats another story) and the change between these two lenses (the 85mm f/1.4D is comparable to the 135mm since they were from the same time period) is enough to make me wait for Nikon’s updated version of this lens. Canon has had an autofocus 135mm f/2.0 lens for some time and by all accounts it is supposed to be absolutely amazing performance wise and I would have to agree. Of course these lenses have Autofocus, something that this Carl Zeiss 135mm lacks. However, the control afforded by manual focus (something which is executed excellently by Carl Zeiss) combined with the accurate focus confirmation systems of newer DSLR’s makes it a wholly usable lens, and not a significant inconvenience. The lens is built excellently (of course) and preforms very well (as you can see from the samples below taken on the Canon 5D MrkII).

My first introduction to the Carl Zeiss telephoto lenses was the 100mm Macro, which preforms excellently both optically as well as functionally with a smooth and long focus throw which is pleasant to use. This 135mm preforms very similarly in terms of its functionality and its optics are no slouch, when this optic becomes available later this year, It will definitely be coming home with me.

Carl Zeiss only offered prototypes for viewing at PDN PhotoPlus Expo 2012 showing the final designs for the lens bodies which are all metal and come with screw in metal lens hoods. These touches are very nice considering that the majority of smaller-format lenses lack these touches. The lenses also have autofocus which is a pleasant change from their manual focus lineups of lenses. I have no doubt that they will preform very well and am curious to see their performance as well as what other focal lengths they will announce in the future. These lenses are a pleasant and realistic change compared to the Carl Zeiss lenses which are provided for the Sony system which are manufactured by Sony and not Carl Zeiss. However these lenses are produced in Germany by Carl Zeiss and I have no doubt that this difference will show in their performance. I am slightly disappointed that Carl Zeiss has not announced any plans to produce lenses for Micro Four-Thirds cameras (which you would assume would be an easy thing to do considering they have developed these lenses for the NEX and X-Pro 1 systems already) but I am willing to bet (and this is 100% conjecture) that this may happen in the future.

The Carl Zeiss Distagon 55mm f/1.4 is an entirely new design produced by Carl Zeiss for newer high-megapixel 35mm cameras (specifically like the Nikon D800 and D800e) which are considerably more demanding on lenses then older smaller megapixel count sensors and cameras. The lens is exceptionally well built and has a very very nice rubber focusing ring which is silky smooth to touch and operate. One concern that I have however is that the focusing distance “screen” does not seem to be weather sealed which can be an issue when taking this lens outdoors (where you will be wanting to use it). Considering the exceptional built quality of this lens, and the fact that it is not obviously a studio lens, I am willing to be that this lens is in fact either weather sealed or will be before it ships. The staff at the booth, were not briefed about this subject and could not offer any insight into whether it was currently weather sealed or would be prior to launch.

 f/2.8

 f/1.4

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However as we can see, optically it preforms great. These sample shots were taken with my Nikon D3s and were shot at f/1.4 and f/2.8, and even on the D3s which has a lower megapixel count (then the newer D4 which I was shooting the videos with, and the D800/D800e) the excellent sharpness and overall performance of this lens can be seen.

Multistitch

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Multistitch is accessory/tool/solution for use with 4×5 cameras and digital capture. It allows for every conceivable medium format digital mount as well as 35mm cameras to be used with it (or course on different versions of the plate). The Multistitch is essentially a plate which is attached to the back of a braflok back 4×5 camera (almost every 4×5 camera) after focusing and composing and removing the ground glass focusing screen. The premise is by flipping the orientation of the digital back 4x times you can cover a larger image area (with overlap) to extend the usefulness of older digital backs (a 22mp will become approx. a 75mp effective resolution) through stitching in photoshop (or other software). The video demonstration above demonstrates this tool rather effectively, and I will be getting my hands on both the 35mm version (most likely Nikon mount) as well as the PhaseOne 645DF M-Mount versions for review since it seems to be an interesting solution for using full view-camera movements in the studio (and possibly the field?) from a 4×5 camera with digital capture technology.

 Nikon

Nikon was not terribly interesting for me this year, considering they did not announce anything of any terrible significance to me this year. They did just announce (and show for the first time) the new Nikon V2 camera, the successor to the V1, which I am only pleased with in the sense that it is good that it gets back a real grip, and some of the practical form factor of DSLR’s. I believe that the most serious small-sensored cameras are those which do not abandon the SLR / DSLR form factor. One lens that I would be interested in experiencing on this camera was the also newly announced development of a 30mm (32mm?) f/1.2 lens for the Nikon mirror less system. Mirrorless systems afford great low-light opportunities with a slew of f/1.4, f/1.2, and f/0.95 lenses which offer all sorts of creative possibilities. While in this case, this one lens does not sell a system to me, if they continue with some ultra-fast autofocus lenses, it could have some potential, however knowing the larger camera manufacturers, they live to disappoint. Micro Four-Thirds has considerably more fast lenses available which makes it a considerably more attractive system since it has a number of native f/1.8, f/1.4, f/0.95 lenses across a number of focal lengths, not to mention the ability to accept Leica M lenses (via adapters) which are generally f/2.0 or faster. Anyway they had these two mirror less products, as well as my favorite part, the ultra-telephoto section where they had all of their extreme telephoto lenses mounted on D4′s to play with. Included in these is the spectacular 800mm f/5.6 (their longest production autofocus lens) which will unquestionably be accompanying me on safari if I ever so choose to go on one.

 Olympus

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Olympus has been doing a considerably good job of late surprising me with the quality of products they are putting out. The OM-D EM-5 is the closest I have come to date to buying a Micro Four-Thirds camera. It preforms very well and has a number of very interesting and high quality lenses available for it. Olympus has made some absolutely and insanely impressive Four-Thirds lenses, which can be used on this camera (with autofocus via adapter) as well as a number of Micro Four-Thirds lenses which do not disappoint. They have released a series of high quality metal bodied lenses, which are a step up from their normal Micro Four-Thirds fare in the past which has been quite pleasing. Now, they have shown to me for the first time the outstanding new 75mm f/1.8 and 60mm  f/2.4 Macro lens which are exceptional to say the least. Unfortunately, I forgot an SD card, so you will have to believe me that these cameras and lenses offer exceptional image quality.

 

The 75mm f/1.8 is Olympus’s high-quality / fast / telephoto solution  which is a very substantial lens. It is heavy, all metal and can be felt to contain some serious glass. While it is large, it does surprisingly fit very comfortably in the hand, and on the camera when being held and is not oppressively big like a Leica Noctilux on an M9. Olympus has done a very good job of balancing the weight of this large lens with the diminutive weight of the OM-D EM-5 body. The lens offers very quick autofocus, as well as buttery smooth manual focus, which is atypical of lenses for this system, however should be expected of this ~1000 dollar beast of a lens. Bokeh is nothing short of astounding and focused areas are rendered beautifully sharp. If you plan on doing street photography, or any kind of portraits with this camera, the 75mm f/1.8 lens is THE lens to get. If I get a Micro Four-Thirds camera system, this will absolutely be one of the lenses that I buy. The lens also offers silent focusing for both still and more relevantly movie recording. (I am not sure if this lens is weather-sealed but I would assume so)

 

The 60mm f/2.4 Macro is another exceptional lens for the Micro Four-Thirds system. It is built just as excellently as the 75mm f/1.8 lens and offers the possibility of 1:1 macro photography. This lens is fully weather-sealed and features a clever autofocus control dial on the left hand side of the lens barrel. It offers close-focus, full-focus, and far-focus switches as well as a clever fourth switch which sets the lens to its closest 1:1 macro focus setting. This then allows for the user to move the camera closer and further from the subject until it is in focus. This may sound tedious or confusing, and I may have poorly described it, but it is a good feature which makes macro work easier, and certainly faster which can be essentially when photographing things like insects.

 Schneider-Kreuznach

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Schneider is currently doing the same thing as Carl Zeiss in terms of diversifying their lens portfolios. To me, Schneider is personally the finer of the two companies, considering they still make Large Format lenses etc. They also happen to make the excellent series of Leaf Shutter lenses for PhaseOne/MamiyaLeaf. At Photokina Schneider announced plans for expending their 35mm lens line from just Tilt-Shift lenses to regular lenses as well. They also announced plans for Micro Four-Thirds lenses as well (which makes sense they are part of the Micro Four-Thirds consortium). Both of these series of lenses seem to be very high quality, and I was able to get some hands on time with one of the lenses in their new 35mm line up, the 85mm Makro lens in Nikon mount. They will also be producing a normal and wide lens in this series which will be manual focus exactly like the Carl Zeiss lenses. The lenses are amazingly superbly made, and I slightly prefer them to the Carl Zeiss lenses however they are are all excellent in terms of built quality. Unfortunately they did not their Micro Four-Thirds lenses on display at PDN Photoplus. but hey they did have the iPro iPhone lens and case system, lol. 

Schneider had two new lenses that they announced at Photokina 2012 on display. They had a new 28mm f/4.5 perspective control lens in Nikon, Canon, Sony or Pentax mounts. It features 8 degrees of tilt and 12mm of shit and offers the same fully rotatable design feature like the companies other perspective control lenses. The other and more significant series of lenses they announced are a new line of standard lenses for 35mm cameras. The lens that they had on display (still a prototype) was the 85mm Makro f/2.4 Symmar lens. This series is also announced to have 50mm f/1.8 and 35mm f/1.8 variants which are very high quality lenses for DSLR’s. They offer electronic integration for control of the aperture with Nikon (and possibly Canon) mounts. As you can see from these samples, the lens is very however seems to suffer from chromatic aberration (purple/green) but this seems to be something in the coatings which will be worked out before the lenses are shipping, this I have no doubt. However as can be seen in the second shot, the lens offers very nice out of focus elements, and sharpness which are quite pleasant and this lens is a pleasant focal length to have for macro especially if you want to take advantage of it for creative portraiture at close working distances. I am pleased to see these lenses as well as the the other lenses in the series and these along with the new Zeiss lenses may compliment each other nicely for a high quality lens set.

Schneider’s Micro Four-Thirds lenses are a very good sign, because these are some high quality optics which offer autofocus and excellent built quality. There are a ton of very high quality optics which can be used on Micro Four-Thirds however many of them are not purpose built (e.g Leica lenses et al.). There are some higher quality and unique optics available for Micro Four-Thirds like those offered by Voigtlander (manual focus f/0.95 lenses) and SLR Magic’s less high-quality and more creative lens solutions. So Schneider’s lenses will be welcome additions to the line-up of high quality optics like the Olympus 75mm f/1.8 and 60mm f/2.4 and other m4/3′s lenses. Again, do not doubt that they will be excellent, and certainly if I decide to purchase a Micro Four-Thirds these will also be coming home with me.

Cokin Filters

Hidden away in a distributors both (notice I say A distributor to hide the fact that I don’t remember which one) were these new Cokin UV MCUltra-Slim screw in filters. These are absolutely categorically the thinnest filters I have ever seen. You cannot believe how thin these are and pictures do not do them justice. They will be available around January and I am very eager to get my hands on these. If when tested they do not degrade image quality in any observable way (only the worst quality filters do this of course) then they will be unquestionably going on all of my lenses (except PhaseOne but that’s a different story too). It’s always great to find these little things that do in fact make a difference, however are almost never covered by anyone and consequently never noticed, but areundeniably still gems.

 

[Vulture Camera Straps]

Shoot NYC / Hasselblad 

Hasselblad announced the H5D, and the world sighed because they also released the Lunar which we will not even honor by discussing. However the H5D, like the PhaseOne 645DF+ also launched this week with CaptureOne Pro 7. The Hasselblad H5D offers slightly changed esthetics which were partially required for the technological changes which took place. However, we can all agree that it would have looked significantly better in all black. Officially, I was told that the camera looked “too small” in all black (which was done as a prototype) to which I sardonically replied “oh god, who would want a camera to look smaller!”. It would have looked better in all black like everyone else, but oh well we can’t have everything. The user interface which has remained virtually unchanged in the H series camera since its creation has finally been giving a 21st century re-vamp. The bottoms on the digital back portion of the camera (I pause before saying digital back because if its a closed system, is it originally a back?) have been changed and now function considerably better then they did before. The GUI on the back of the camera has also been improved and is much more responsive and fluid then the previous version, although maintaining the same design it is entirely new and much better then previous versions. The camera’s weather sealing has been improved and a number of small places where water could get in have now been sealed. The CF slot door, is no longer a flip open, but must be slid back to be opened and has silicone/rubber weather. The viewfinder has now had the seam treatment (since it is removable from the body) and the contact areas between the back and the camera have also been given this treatment. The camera also runs off a battery that is 50% more powerful, since the new electronics in the camera require more power. However the new battery can also be used on previous generations of H series cameras giving them a longer lasting battery.The camera’s top controls have been rearranged. However most importantly, the back of the camera can now be scrolled through using the two wheels available to the right hand when gripping the camera. These can be used to pan through images (which is considerably more responsive and does not need time to buffer on the higher quality screen on the back) as well as to zoom in and around an image which makes shooting with the camera considerably more pleasant. These controls can also be used when accessing the menus on the back of the camera to make selections.

The firewire port has also received a bit of a revamping which could be a curse or a blessing depending on how you look at it. First the firewire port has a protective door which can be slit back (and will snap back into place when released) which is part of the weather sealing improvements on this camera. The firewire cable itself has also received some improvements. Firstly, it should be noted that any FIrewire 800 cable can still be used with the camera, however Hasselblad has

produced their own cable with a few unique features. Rather then sticking directly out of the camera, Hasselblad has introduced a Firewire cord with a 90 degree bend in it, which helps to manage wires. If this was the only reason for this unquestionably expensive Firewire cord, it would be ridiculous however, it also features a proprietary mechanism (known to us lay folk as a groove) in it, which allows for it to be locked into the camera when inserted. This means that the cord cannot be accidentally pulled from the camera during shooting. Conversely as Hasselblad acknowledged, this means if the cord is pulled, the camera is going down with
it…..So you decide for yourself if this is an improvement or a poor idea. However this new connection is quite strong, another thing which Hasselblad was eager to point out, and demonstrate by inserting the cable and then tugging on it, while smiling, nodding its head and  saying “ah yes see it is quite strong!”. However, a comment was then made that the cable could support the weight of the camera entirely. Of course, being a bit of a sado-masochist I then encouraged/berated the gentleman helping me into holding the camera by the firewire cord in the air. At first he sheepishly did it holding his hand under the camera (not supporting it). However, I now fully engaged in this experience goaded him into removing his hand. Which, to his eternal credit he did in fact do, and the camera’s weight was in fact entirely supported by the cable. So Hasselblad (a term which I have used both to describe the company and the representative helping me) gets a few points for this, but again whether it is useful or not to you is an entirely different matter.

The next time you are in the Kandahar Valley in Afghanistan standing on the precipice of a extremely high cliff creating some fine art landscape images and are ambushed by the Taliban’s crack karate team, and within the tussle, your camera is thrown off the ledge and you are only able to grab the firewire cord right before it slips over the edge and into the abyss, you can feel safe in the knowledge that the camera will be safe and remain firmly affixed to the Firewire cable. 

In all seriousness though, the camera does offer some minor improvements over the older generation of H series cameras which may make it an attractive upgrade, however not as attractive as the H4x since the H4x is in fact an open system camera (meant to appease H1, and H2 owners who were pissed about Hasselblad’s closed and proprietary H3D and H4D systems. The sensors and image quality from the H5D are exactly the same as those within the H4D series of cameras, and the changes are entirely in the body of the camera. And while I, like may others dislike Hasselblad for a (growing) number of reasons, this camera does offer some improvements to those already invested in its system.

Hasselblad also had a few other announcements for us. They have released a new macro extension tube type device, which accomplishes closer

focusing not through adding distance between sensor and lens, but by adding optical elements which decrease the size of the adapter (which is

 

pleasant) making it much more comfortable to use on the camera with almost all of the lenses to allow closer focusing. To me, simply hearing about the idea, and not commenting on its image quality and optical performance, this seems like a very good idea, since I always like to be ableto have the option to get closer to a subject (thinking like when I am using the 80mm, 100mm, or 150mm lenses etc). Hasselblad also released a 24mm f/4.8 lens. It is a 1/3 or more stop slower then the Leica (Super-Elmar-S 24mm f/3.5 ASPH) and PhaseOne (Schneider-Kreuznach 28mm f/4.5 LS D) equivalents which are going to be discussed further in my PhaseOne 28mm lens review which comments on both its namesake and these other newly released medium format ultra-wides. But anyway, the Hasselblad 24mm accepts huge 95mm filters, which is sort of an inconvenience but necessary evil for this lens. It is built and functions in the same was as all of the other Hasselblad lenses, which is to say excellently.

 

Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron, initial thoughts

Sample image from the Leica 90mm f/2.0 Summicron on the full frame Leica M9

Firstly, I would like to clarify, the lens in this review is the Leica 90mm f/2 Summicron-M. This lens was produced between 1980-1998 until it was replaced with the current Leica 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH. While I have had had very little exposure to the latter, the former is what I have and what is the subject of this initial experience review.

And now the review ~

My Grandfather always used to tell me this story when I was younger; Around 1959, at the height of American Automakers, the Lincoln Town Car was released. My Grandfather was one of the first to have this car, and it attracted attention and what not because it was the “new thing”. One day, he drove it into the city and parked it in a garage and went about his business. When he retuned to pick up his car, it had been severely scraped along the side accidentally by the employees of the garage. Being a man of good humor, he berated them saying that “It’s my new car, I should at least be the one who has all the fun destroying it!”. And that is my way of saying I bought a used lens.

Photography forums, and Ebay to an extent are great places to find photo gear. A lot of the times things will be overpriced (Ebay) or their equality will not be easily discernible even when aided by pictures. But when all the stars align, and something is what you are looking for, in the condition you are looking for, you can get some great deals.

Sample image from the Leica 90mm f/2.0 Summicron on the full frame Leica M9

Leica is a strange beast. They make almost unquestionably the best optics in the world, which are very difficult to make and consequently demand a high price. You would think that there really aren’t that many people who would pay the “premium” for Leica products. However this is not true, and many photographers swear by them, and others uses them as style pieces but I digress. The Current state of Leica lens availability is STRONG (oh wait sorry thats the union), the states of Leica lens availability as actually quite weak. In fact there are very few lenses widely available in stock-new in retail stores. The most common to find are the Summarit range (f/2.5 lenses, which are some of the cheapest Leica lenses, but often highly underrated, I own the 35mm and 50mm and love them) and some of those strange slow wide angle lenses. You can find some 35mm/50mm Summicrons or the occasional random piece but the hot ticket items, the Summilux’s and telephoto Summicron’s (75mm and 90mm) are all but impossible to get with customers waiting upwards of two years for their lenses (I have been waiting this long for a 50mm Summilux and know people who have been waiting just as long for 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH lenses). Aside from modern Leica cameras ability to use Legacy lenses dating back to the 1950′s, this lack of new stock has lead to a lively used equipment market in Leica lenses. It has even kept prices high on older models of lenses because of their focal lengths and apertures.

I decided I wanted a 90mm lens, and found this 90mm Summicron on Luminous Landscape and bought it. The experiences I had had with the current 90mm f/2 APO-Summicron-M ASPH had confirmed for me first hand that this was a superior lens optically. After some research online, I rightly concluded that, while there are changes int he APO-ASPH version of this lens they were not significant to warrant paying $6,000.00 premium prices for this lens. Apochromatic lenses allow for focusing of multiple wavelengths of the color spectrum, when you use a lens which is not apochromatic you run the chance of getting chromatic aberration. This most often occurs when there are harsh edges with great contrasts in white/black or light/dark. This is truly the only noticeable difference between the non APO-ASPH version and the APO-ASPH version. Other then this, they look identical except for the fact that apparently the numbers and letters on the non APO-ASPH are more rounded then those on the newer version. Through my initial experiences with this lens, it does exhibit some slight chromatic aberration, however this is in very extreme examples, where you are almost asking for there to be CA in the image. In other images however, CA is sometimes present however it is not significant or noticeable without zooming in in photoshop 200-300%.

Leica’s M system has been built on a legacy of many things, one of them has always been compactness. And while any M lens is considerably smaller then other lenses covering the full 35mm format (full frame) some are large then others. Inherently to their design telephoto lenses must be longer then most standard wider lenses. There are some extreme examples of this like my 24mm f/1.4 Summilux or the 21mm f/1.4 Summilux or the Legendary Noctilux f/0.95 however as a general rule the telephoto’s will be larger, or at least longer (think 135mm vs 35mm). I have grown accustomed to having the added weight and size on the front of the camera and the lower right hand corner of the viewfinder being blocked from my experiences with the 24mm Summilux and consequently this wasn’t an issue for me when I started using this lens. When holding the camera in your hand, this lens is nice, since because of its size, it allows you to hold the camera in a different way which I find quite comfortable.

The aperture ring is of course, very nice and firm in typical Leica style. It has buttery smooth long focus throw which allows for very precise focusing. This is of course something you will want with a lens like this. When using a wide or even normal angle lens, because of the relative size of things you are given some allowances for focusing inaccuracies as regards focusing and DOF’s at various apertures. However the longer side, telephotos are much less forgiving interns of focusing at small apertures (and making pictures at slower shutter speeds but thats kind of a given right?). This is why it is very important to have a long focus throw which means you have to turn the lens barrel multiple times to go from minimum focus to infinity, there by allowing you to make minor adjustments because of its rigidity.

Wide Open, this lens is sharp, Painfully sharp. The main issues I have experienced with this lens have been chromatic aberrations (mentioned above in depth, but again they are very minimal and even a real issue) and focusing inaccuracies because of user error. There are sometimes when a Lens and Digital cameras are not properly aligned, and you must send it back to Leica to have it re-calibrated so everything works perfectly in this system. However I have not had this issue yet. Rather most of the times my focusing issues come from lack of experience with the lens. I.e understanding how shallow the DOF really is with a 90mm lens wide open at f/2, that is to say really shallow. Of course this is part of what you pay for, being able to blow the out of focus elements to oblivion, but it simply creates a challenge which must be mastered when using this lens.

I’m sure I will have more thoughts when I have used this lens for a longer period of time (again, I only got it today), but this is all I have for right now. I am leaving tomorrow morning for a trip to London, where I will be taking my Leica’s and using them with this lens as well as some others and will report back on them later.

If you would like to see a few more or bigger versions of theses images or the EXIF data or whatever, head over to my flickr page for details: http://www.brianhirschfeldphotography.com

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All of the images in this review, were processed through JPEGmini, which is a free online service which allows you to convert your JPEG’s into a JPEGmini, which functions exactly like the JPEG you put into it, but is magically significantly smaller. I find this is great for web-imaging because it allows for faster load times and helps when there are file size limits. While I wouldn’t suggest printing any files you process through JPEGmini right now (although they maintain the original dimensions and resolution) they are sufficient for web purposes and there is virtually no difference between the files except their file size (i.e Kb and Mb). The 10 files in this review were RAW files from my Leica M9 at native size and resolution, combined they were 175.5 Mb (Averaging ~18 Mb a piece) and once uploaded and converted, they are now 41.4 Mb in total (Averaging ~4 Mb a piece) overall they shaved off roughly 75% of their file size with no loss in detail, file dimensions or resolution; pretty damn impressive.  I am not affiliated with or frankly even in contact with anyone who works at JPEGmini, I just think it is something great which is not widely known about.

PDN Photoplus 2011

Originally published: November 2, 2011

Featured on Photorumors: http://photorumors.com/2011/11/01/pdn-photoplus-show-2011-report/

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PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York1 2011 PDN Photoplus photography trade show report review
Left: Inside the Javits Center. Right: A poor representation of the scene outside the Javits center since the image fails to capture the blizzard of snow and ice whipping by every second with the wind.

Saturday October 29, 2011 was a day to remember. Leaving my house in Connecticut at around 11:30 with flurries falling I wasn’t to concerned about the weather; I was going to PDN Photoplus after all. Around Greenwich when the snow intensified I continued on but started to question my resolve. Nonetheless I made it into the city and to the Javits Center. Usually when I attend these sort of shows, I take with me some significant camera either my D3s or my M9 because I like to have a nice camera for me for the rest of my time wherever I am. Of course they don’t hurt your credibility when asking to see expensive gear. This year however I only took my D-Lux 4 point and shoot tucked away in my pocket. As a whole I was pleased with the way I was treated and glad to confirm my suspicions that it wouldn’t affect my credibility if I was clearly knowledgeable about different products. I didn’t address Leica in this review because, as always they are amazing, they let you play with everything, and love talking about it. And of course again much to my torment, they have all of their glass their, all of that rare glass that is impossible to get new from a dealer. They had M9P’s which look great. I will have mine converted when the demand or the conversion is lower and the back order isn’t at January for the conversion. It looks good and adds to the camera’s aesthetic and functionality by making it that much more subtle. The only new thing with the S system was the 30mm Lens which no one really cared about anyway. They need more lenses there is no denying that, and I harp on that many times in the reviews below. But they are a great company with great service and that’s undeniable, even more importantly they make the best optics in the world (if you ask me, which you did since you are reading this). There are pictures of some lenses and the M9P and S2 on my Flickr page. I should add that these are as much my opinions as well as coverage of the show since I really only talks about things that I found interesting and because I’m a narcissist how they relate to me. This should be noted before giving me too much grief in the comments section although I welcome corrections and criticism in a friendly and proper manor icon wink 2011 PDN Photoplus show report For more pictures see http://www.flickr.com/brianhirschfeldphotography.

COOL THINGS THAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED – SCHNEIDER-KREUZNACH PC TS SUPER ANGULON’S

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It would’ve been very easy to walk by the Schneider booth at PDN Photoplus simply because its kind of intimidating. Its German, and its not Leica. They make great optics, most of which you’ll never use because they are large format. And they are pretty damn expensive since they are pretty damn good. Not to mention there are D3’s, 1D’s and Leaf Backs being shown with GIANT TILT SHIFT LENSES on them. Since most people (myself included to a slight extent, although I’m getting better) don’t entirely grasp the concept of tilt shift lenses. All of this leads to a pretty quite, although quite large booth.   First off, these lenses are amazing, they really are. They are built so well they almost defy explanation. They can’t be compared to Leica’s because they are not. They are Schneider’s. Leica’s lenses are very simply; straightforward and streamlined like the brand. This lens is big, bulky and high in functionality and all metal. It has so many moving parts it defies description and I won’t even endeavor to explain all of them. It’s a fully manual lens, no communication with the camera, you set your aperture and everything on the lens and set your exposure on camera and bam there you go. It’s a perspective control, tilt shift lens on steroids. Its mostly similar to Nikon and Canon’s tilt shift lenses in that they tilt and shit. Schneider’s is inherently bettered designed because of the optics house it hails from. This goes without saying. What doesn’t go without saying are the different an amazing ways this camera interacts with cameras. Most interestingly to me is the mount to the camera. It is possibly by turning a nob at the back to have 360 degree rotation of the camera, but not the lens. The lens will stay in a fixed position but the camera can be repositioned. This is an amazing feature for stitching. Although I don’t remember the dimensions exactly, its possible to take an image, flip the camera mount upside down, so the camera is upside down, take another exposure, merge them together and have it was either a 6x17or a 6×24 image. I thought this was great. Combined with many other perspective modifying features of this lens its really amazing for architecture and landscape work. While less relevant to me in the Nikon and Canon mounts because these are quite small and don’t benefit a huge amount from lens/camera movements, I was more interested in the PhaseOne mount version which has all of the same features of the Nikon Canon models which apparently also have interchangeable mounts according to the sprite and chipper German Schneider rep who clearly knew what he was talking about. I was really pleased with this lens as well as the service delivered by the Schneider rep by his in-depth knowledge and eagerness to talk about the product to someone. I will definitely try and find an excuse to buy this lens.

IOSHUTTER

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Despite appearances, ioShutter had a rather prime location at the end of an isle and right next to borrow lenses; this product may have been overlooked by some. It is a fairly simple idea that you would’ve expected to come about by now. The App is currently available for download in the app store but it won’t really do you much good without the cable which will be available in December according to their website. Also I THINK NOT SURE it might just be for Canon at the moment and will be available for Nikon and I think Hasselblad was mentioned and PhaseOne in the pipeline. Anyway it’s a shutter release cable driven by your iOS device. It has time functions as well as interval release functions useful for time-lapse photograph. While I don’t know if only as a shutter it is that useful since how much room does a cable release really take up anyway? But with the added time-lapse and easy locking features combined with the fact that almost every person on the planet has an iOS device, and the ones that don’t are currently in-line to get one, and so many people have DSLR’s and pro-sumer models that might benefit from this feature, I really hope this concept succeeds.

GIGAPAN SYSTEMS GIGAPAN EPIC SMALL UPDATE

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First of all, my first victory in my crusade for the underrated 300mm f/4 lenses! There’s one mounted on a canon on a Gigapan Epic. Second since my primary interest is in medium format photography, anytime I see anything cool and techno-gadgetry as relates to camera’s I ask, does it work with PhaseOne 645DF? What about a Hasselblad H? So often the answer is no, but here the answer was YES! Kind of. Works with Hasselblad which is great, except I’m trading that in for a PhaseOne. The rep pictured left, explained that they are currently working with PhaseOne to get the cable right to communicate properly between the Gigapan Epic and the Phase 645DF body, just an interesting note, no real thoughts on it one way or another.

FUJI

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Fuji has come a long way in the last year, and I am very impressed with them. They released the X100 and its ridden a wave of hype to almost being widely available a year later. It’s a great little camera, really vintage looking, and kinda sorta opening up peoples mind to the arcane but magical world of rangefinders once again. After holding the X10 and being able to directly compare it to the X100, I have to say I walked a way with a very favorable impression of the X10. That is not to say the X100 isn’t a pretty cool camera but it isn’t that valuable of a tool to me as an M9 shooter. It is a very fun camera and certainly has some novelty value masking its true potential as a camera. But anyway back to the X10 I thought it took everything that was good about the X100 and added in some useful point and shoot features like, smaller size and zoom lenses. Again being an M shooter as well as a fan of prime lenses the X100’s lack of a zoom lens was by no means a deterrent from it in my mind. All that said about Prime lenses, the lens most often on my D3s is my 24-70mm 2.8 because it is the most convenient for general and most travel photography for me. The X10 adds a nice little zoom lens into the equation and it preforms admirably. The X100 had a pretty fast autofocus speed and the X10 seemed to be faster to me. In terms of functionality the X10 seemed on par if not better then the X100. The X10 however, excelled in the size war. I felt that it really did take the good things about the X100 and put them in a smaller, more point and shoot, sized body. It clearly can compete with the big pro-sumer model’s from Canon and Nikon The G12 and P7000 respectively. It does beat them if you ask me, it looks better, it is faster, it has better controls and its manual zoom lens is nicer if you ask me. It gets you more involved in the photography. While you loose the fun and total involvement of an aperture ring it does get both of your hands on the camera and gets you more into being a photographer which I like and think will do wonders for those who use it and photography as a whole if more cameras follow this trend of reverting to the basics (so well exemplified in the M series) and bringing thought and understanding back into mass photography. Again, that said it’s a double edged sword you get all these really cool, back to basic features, but you still wind up paying a premium, not Leica insane but its still kinda like buying a Porsche GT3 where you pay more to have them take stuff out of the car. A note about the upcoming Fuji interchangeable lens camera system. I after fondling the X100 and X10 in silence and not acknowledging the presence of their rep since there really wasn’t any need to talk to him, surreptitiously snuck in an out of no where question, catching him completely off guard, which I hoped would lead to him slipping up and revealing something. “So when will this new interchangeable model with an M mount be announced?” rep “Uh Hi, well it will be out in the spring [I already knew that part] and I should add no one said anything about it being an M-mount system.”. And this guy was really no fun at all so I didn’t bother mentioning about the m-mount patent being up and all that stuff. At the same time I would and wouldn’t be surprised if this new system was a modified m mount to allow for autofocus and a like while accepting all Legacy M lenses. But that’s not a prediction, that’s a hope.

NIKON

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Left: Red Rock Mirco with an appropriately blue styled DSLR rig with large LCD finder and Nikon’s Microphone Right: Zacuto HDSLR rig with their new-ish electronic viewfinder solution which I thought was really great. It can be used with or without the hood and give a really nice BIG electronic viewfinder for precise focus control with the attached follow focus.

Oh Nikon you wonderful behemoth the things you give us are so great. You even Dane to support other brands that compliment your system, how wonderful! I was really intrigued to see that Nikon had a Zacuto and Red Rock Micro DSLR video kit available to be fondled to advertise not only their cameras and lenses but the viability of their cameras as a HDSLR solution. I had never held one of these contraptions before and as the eager sales rep pointed out “they take a little while to get used to” but once you have figured it out they become fairly natural and easy to use. Both setups are pictured with a Nikon D7000, 85mm 1.4G and Nikon Microphone attached.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York7 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Nikon had a really great display of a lot of their future concepts for the mirrorless system including of course lenses as well as some very nice viewfinders and LED lighting setups for photography and video; not to mention a almost tasteful myriad of color options that totally blew Pentax’s mind since some of theme even seemed tasteful. Pictures of these can be seen with many others on my flickr page. I thought the Camcorder design pictured above was one of the best. It adds a side handle, which has a built in continuous light source for easy video recording. It also featured a hot shoe mounted large viewing screen for control over the various options while recording video. Not to mention it does this all off of one body and with interchangeable lenses. I wouldn’t ever really consider it since it isn’t my thing but I can really see this catching on if they can implement enough different accessories that it lens itself to creativity as well as convenience for the less creative consumer segment. Also its really great that they feature all of these different lenses as future concepts and describe who they will be useful for on the description cards for each but they decidedly aren’t working prototypes since they aren’t touchable or even if they are working no one would know it since you cant touch them. I understand Nikon is having a tough time at the moment but wouldn’t have been better to wait and have a fully developed lenses line when the camera launched? For the moment Canon is still without a mirror less system and there haven’t been any leaks of a Canon mirror less prototype, which suggests they, are either holding the designer’s and production staff’s families hostage or it doesn’t exist. Nikon probably could’ve waited, designed, and produced a few more lenses and released them with it, but then again that’s kind of like back seat driving since I’m sitting on my bed and not in the Nikon boardroom. But seriously if Pentax could do it, couldn’t Nikon? (and I know the Pentax lenses feel like you got them out of one of those gumball machines with the prizes but still you get the point.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York81 2011 PDN Photoplus show report 1

Continuing my purely scientific interest in Nikon and Canon’s 300mm f/4 telephoto lens offers, and confirming that no one has every actually used one by talking to multiple Nikon reps, I investigated the Nikon Offering. It is certainly better built then the Canon equivalent in terms of weather sealing and overall build. It’s a true Nikon lens through and through. That said I liked the way the Canon version felt more, honestly. They both autofocused about the same speed (very unscientific test) with a slight favor towards the Nikon in this respect. They both seem to be really nice compact lenses and I don’t know if people buy them but are ashamed of it or if they haven’t been deemed to be worth anyone’s time to review? But I’ve decided to make it my personal crusade to do these lenses justice!

PENTAX

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After being acquired by Ricoh I was curious to see what Pentax would bring to the table. See that was funny to me since all Pentax really had were to tables, albeit very nice open wooden ones with a nice aesthetic. I was expecting a heavier focus on the Ricoh product line, but there was only one camera present. One that frankly I was a bit remiss in not investigating further, the A12 M mount cartridge for the Ricoh GXR. The rest of the combined Ricoh/Pentax space other then the limited corner of the table the Ricoh GXR M mount was on (it had its own sales rep though) was taken up with Pentax Products. Essentially one of the whole tables was devoted to the new and amazing Pentax Q the cutest damn little camera I’ve ever see. From what I’ve seen its images haven’t been that impressive, but look at it! Its so Tiny and cute and you can fit all the lenses (including the zoom), and optical viewfinder in a small-medium sized pocket! And don’t even get me started on that cute little faux leather case, it just makes it look so quant and old fashioned!PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York10 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

All joking aside though, it is tiny. I mean tiny. I mean I’m pretty sure a PhaseOne battery weighs more. And better yet (all other manufacturers should note this) IT WAS ANNOUNCED WITH A FULL RANGE OF LENSES granted collectively I’m pretty sure they use as much glass as a 20 fl oz plastic coke bottle but they are all there, in the flesh, and touchable. They aren’t carefully protected from the public behind glass like the Nikon V1 / J1 concept lenses, or promised like Leica S lenses, they exist. They are there, and they are damn cute. The Jury is still out on this camera, I don’t expect it to be that great image quality wise, but hey its tiny, its complete, and its got all the buttons, who am I to badmouth it. Did I mention its absolutely adorable?PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York11 2011 PDN Photoplus show report1

Pentax 645D – I’ve always had a bit of interest in this camera. It’s the closest I can come to saying that a reasonably priced new medium format system exists. Of course like the S system from Leica, it is a closed system, the back cannot be removed. But especially for Pentax this is less of an issue since they have all of the legacy 645 lenses a large number of which have autofocus. It can also use Pentax 67 lenses with an adapter that expands the lens range even wider. It seems like a nice entry point considering its cool 40mp and weather sealed body for more then half the price of a Leica S2 (don’t give me crap I’m being a jerk, of course the S is superiorly designed, built, and has better although limited optics.) At Photoplus, the camera wasn’t on display. I asked the sales rep who had shown me the Q about this and he said that it was because the 645D rep had left the day before, awkward. Anyway the Pentax sales rep did give me an interesting line which I thought may be obvious but anyway….He said that Pentax is treating the 645D as a response to Pentax users who want a step up from the K-7. This make sense although I did want to point out that there is a major gap in their pricing structure between the price of a K-7 and the 645D. But I guess if you can afford a D3x category camera you can afford a ~10k medium format system alternatively. I think the 645D does a lot of what the S2 doesn’t that is to say, be affordable. It really does a good job of this. It has all the buttons of, controls, and functionality you want in medium format, it has nice (not superior) build quality, a developed system of lenses and some cool features like the tripod mount hidden by my thumb in the below picture. Pleasing entry-level system (although this has an awful awful stigma [stigma not sigma, sigma does have a stigma attached to it] it shouldn’t) or an amazing go anywhere backup to a large mp sized medium format system. Honestly, I think the S should be more in the 15k range and that would convert more people to Leica and competitively compete with a system like this.

CANON

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Frankly in stark contrast to the jumpy and excited Nikon floor staff the Canon staff were all seated in chairs and look unenthusiastic. This doesn’t lend itself to inspire you to engage these people. But being the brave soul that I am I dared to disturb them and once you broke the ice they were more then happy to talk with you about any aspect of the camera and eager to let you put different lenses on it. OMG OMG it’s the Canon 1Dx have you seen those videos of the 12 FPS!!! CRAZY!!! And the 14 FPS in mirror lock-up WOWZERS. Pretty cool stuff but its hard to get to excited about it. It’s pretty amazing to operate the camera in motor drive at 12 fps but not life changing. I liked the 1984 F-1 Canon High Speed Motor Drive which had 14 fps a long time ago. Anyway the most important development I noted was in talking with a Canon rep. That is, that the limit on video length has been raised and will not be limited like on the IDs Mrk IV. This is important since more and more these cameras are being used on film sets. One thing I made a point of looking at at the show were the Canon 300mm f/4L and Nikon 300mm f/4 because I had never had any experience with them or read anything coherent about them. I found the Canon version to be nicer actually, pretty nice and an interesting, compact fairly fast telephoto lens. Overall this was really all that Canon had to offer, frankly the show as a whole didn’t present that many new products, but it did showcase some of the latest and greatest which have been announced over the past few months. A little disappointing but I’m not one to complain.PDN PhotoPlus Show 2011 New York13 2011 PDN Photoplus show report

A BRIEF VISIT TO POLAROID

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Frankly one of the stranger booths in the room was Polaroid’s. It kinda sorta seemed like they pulled some stuff from storage, threw in some of their new products and put some poor sales reps in for good measure. They had some strange things there, like legacy polaroid land cameras and other peculiar eclectic treasures. They also had some I assume new to them reflex-mirror lenses which I don’t understand since these are typically now a days made by second-rate manufacturers and I think that these may mean that Polaroid has gone off the deep end. They had there new little pocket printer thing in a case with some sample images printed from it which weren’t very impressive. I don’t really see the point to this item, I guess its supposed to make it like a polaroid addition to digital since it prints it on the scene? I don’t know or really care. The most interestingly strange part of the already peculiar Polaroid booth was the new camera flashes and LED hybrid. I guess its cool and a good concept. Why carry around an LED continuous light for when your doing video and a strobe with your HDSLR. It works as a concept. But I question whether anyone can feasibly put all this into a cohesive package that works, especially Polaroid. But who knows brands like quantum exist so go figure. Maybe Polaroid will be the next great camera peripheral maker, who knows, with Lady Gaga on the team (she still is right?) the sky is the limit and nothing can go wrong.

DIGITAL TRANSITIONS ~ PHASEONE AND ARCA SWISS

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Arca Swiss RM3Di Technical Camera

Tucked away in the far corner of the convention area was the Digital Transitions booth. They are PhaseOne, Arca Swiss, and Schneider dealers among others. After finishing up a deal to trade in my H3Dii-39ms for a IQ180 I explored some of the other wares they had there. They had the other IQ series backs there (IQ140 and IQ160) and they preformed just as nicely as the IQ180, no complaints about any of them.

PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air – Of course they had the PhaseOne 645DF and V-Grip Air which are a wonderful combination that I think is one of the most comfortable out there for medium format.

Lenses – They also had some of the newer PhaseOne (some Mamiya and some Schneider lenses). The Schneider LS lenses are beautifully made and are definitely a step above the focal plane shutter Mamiya rebranded lenses. Now, don’t get me wrong a good sample of a Mamiya or PhaseOne 645 lens preforms very nicely, I don’t mean to cast them in a bad light by saying that they are Mamiya lenses rebranded. The Schneider lenses other then being built like tanks are of course optically better. This is a fact that may be overlooked when seeing their headings as “Leaf Shutter” lenses.

1. PhaseOne 120mm AF Macro Another highlight of the PhaseOne lens lineup present was the new 120mm AF Macro. I am sure there are some macro diehards and persnickety people who will suggest you don’t need autofocus on a macro lens. To which I will present the following. I own a Nikon 105mm f/2.8G macro; I don’t do that much macro photography. Since it is not my main area of interest I don’t use for its intended purpose that often, and when I do it is more as a novelty. But rather it is a close focusing short telephoto portrait lens (its also weather sealed and the 105mm f/2 DC is not). And this IS something that needs autofocus for convenience. This is where the 120mm AF Macro will really shine. As a fashion and portrait lens allowing the photographer different working distances with the subject. Also like the new Schneider 110mm and 150mm LS lenses, the 120mm AF Macro has a really nice new non-fluted bayonet hood. It is made of metal I believe and very solid and capable of protecting the lens. This is a feature I have disliked on many of the Mamiya designed lenses, their lens hoods are too plasticky. The 120mm AF Macro will definitely be a lens that I will be adding to my lineup in the near future.

2. Schneider 110mm f/2.8 LS lens Unfortunately as my time with Hasselblad winds down, I have come to appreciate one of its lenses in a new light. The 100mm f/2.2 has become one of my favorite lenses recently preforming admirably wide open and stopped down. Aside from its optical performance, I have found, the focal length (which is exactly 78mm in 35mm format but effectively 85mm) is my favorite focal length. I don’t leave for any shoot without either my 85mm 1.4D or 85mm 1.4G, more recently the 85mm 1.4G because of its G series weather sealing. Anyway I digress. The 100mm f/2.2 has been great and yielded some of my favorite images of all time in the past few months. The Schneider 110mm f/2.8 while lacking the widest aperture of the Hasselblad 100mm f/2 retains the focal length that I enjoy and will also be coming home with me in the near future if I have my way. It is a superiorly built lens and a real stunner optically.

Arca Swiss RM3Di – While not my main area of expertise by any means and I know there are certainly others better versed in this field, I was interested in this technical camera. It is a competitor to the Alpa series of cameras and is also in a category of non-bellows technical cameras. I like the way Micheal Reichman called it this subset of technical cameras “The Worlds Most Expensive Point and Shoot” specifically referring to a Cambo in this case. Again, anyway I digress. Having handled Alpa’s in the past (actually at PDN Photoplus 2010), I would say the Alpa’s have an edge on build quality. However I have heard from a dealer that they are rather slow in sending out simple part requests for replacements and orders. Apparently Arca Swiss is better and this should be a noted consideration. Also because of its modular nature, I understand that a lot of other Arca accessories can be used in Tandem with it. System development should be noted and is important when considering a camera, one of the clear advantages when choosing a PhaseOne over something like the Leica S2. The Arca Swiss uses a different focus system then these other technical cameras which usually use a focusing system that is on the lens which is arguable more imprecise. The Arca uses the silver knob on the front, which is more precise and takes many turns to rack the focus from minimum to infinity or visa versa which is beneficially to typically OCD landscape photographers (the OCD is one of the reason they are so good, not an insult). The RM3Di also has a full line of its own accessories like viewfinders, reflex hoods and so on and uses many large format lenses (pictured with a Schneider). The RM3Di also accepts either film backs or digital backs like those from PhaseOne. Something interesting that should be noted about the

IQ Series backs is that they have a special mode, which allows them to detect when the shutter on a view camera has been released, and an exposure made. This means that you can use view cameras without a sync cable, which is very nice, if you work outdoors or in conditions where a sync cable would get in the way (or you just hate wires like me.) For the most precise work and long exposures, I understand that it is better still to use a camera-lens sync cable anyway though. The RM3Di is a very nice camera and through my limited knowledge of the niche, I see no major complaints with it other then size issues and some lackluster build quality (everyone else uses wood why did you choose resin grips Arca?). I personally would lean towards Alpa in these matters because of finish and build quality. But in the end these systems are all about facilitating the use of typically ultra-wide but also regular large format lenses on medium format sensors with the theory that they large image circle will yield a sweeter sweet spot on the smaller medium format sensor. It should also be noted that they allow you to shit and tilt the lens and back for stitching possibilities.

 

Leica Store Mayfair and Leica S2 In-Depth Review

Originally published: September 23, 2011 and featured on Leicarumors.com

Leica has stores? yup. They have all of their products in them? yup. And they actually sell them? yup*. That last yup* indicates a slight caveat to this answer. While they have every lens on display, they don’t have every lens in stock. In fact they are severely lacking in stock, just like every other place on the planet. They can’t be faulted by this and it is the worst thing I have to say about them .

Granted, store is a bit of a tease because you enter and are immediately awed by the fact that they have EVERY LEICA LENS (on display). You can see, you can touch, but you can’t buy. Everything you dream of from a 50 Summilux to a 90 Summicron. but you can’t buy them. The staff is very good as well as knowledgable about their products (as they should be). Not only do these people work in the store but they are also photographers in their own right who have actual practical experience with the products. Since Leica is rather expensive the fact that some of the employee’s own multiple M9′s with assortments of exotic (even for Leica) glass, astounds me. If you walk into the store with one of their products, they love you that much more. This is not to say they will not help you if you don’t own a Leica, but having one certainly doesn’t hurt in terms of overall hospitality. I didn’t have anything to do for the afternoon so I decided to walk over and check out the place.

90mm Summicron mounted on my M9. (Left to right) 75mm Summicron, 50mm Summilux, 35mm Summicron, then my humble 35mm Summarit

They are very happy to let you mount any lens on your camera as well as let you take demo shots with it. This is one of their key purposes. The Leica stores are there to provide access to their products and get the word out about them. Granted this is undermined by the fact that they are tucked away in an alley in one of the most exclusive areas of London (Holland and Holland is also on this Alley/Street though).

Having the Leica 50mm Summilux (a lens I have had on order from my camera store Camera Wholesalers of Stamford, CT since I purchased the Leica M8 when it was new) was an ethereal experience. In my opinion there is absolutely nothing like shooting with this lens. The Leica store employee who was helping me strongly agreed with me furthering my point by saying that the full-frame Leica M9 was made for this lens and that this lens was made for the M9. The 35mm Summicron was also another interesting experience. I had almost exclusively used my 35mm Summarit on my M8 and M9 and had an intimate knowledge of it. The 35 Summicron is as well built and smaller but not too much so that it causes a problem. It is unobtrusive in every way. Wide open it does have better performance then the 35mm Summilux to some. I am not sure, but I might be slightly more in the 35mm Summicron’s camp. Both lenses are superior and if you use them stopped down the way you will normally use any lens the difference would be negligible.

The Leica 75mm and 90mm Summicron’s were more interesting to me though. I had never used a telephoto lens on the M9 (other then a brief encounter with the 135mm). There is no legitimate reason to own both of these lenses. Either way it is most likely going to be the longest lens you will own. That is unless your Audrey Toutou and this is a Chanel No.5 Commercial. Or if you are an Asian business man who insist on having every current Leica lens even the useless 90mm Macro (read on for more about this lens). Both of these lenses are exceptional but the 90mm Summicron is the standout. It is as sharp as you can get without cutting something when you get it in perfect focus wide open. Stopped down it is unbelievable. The 75mm Summicron is as good as any other lens, it is sharp, superiorly built, and performs like a champ. However the 75mm focal length is a little to close to the 50mm focal length for me to see any practical use for the focal length. I don’t know if I will go out of my way to purchase a 90mm Summicron since the Leica M system really isn’t about the telephoto end focal lengths. They are there, you can do great things with them, but as the focal lengths increase they become increasingly inconvenient to use because of their size blocking the viewfinder.

The only Leica macro lens for the M system, here mounted on my M9 with the viewfinder adaptersThe 90mm Macro-Elmar f/4 is one strange lens. In fact it may be the strangest lens I have ever seen, particularly from a company, rather the photography company. There is nothing to say that this lens is not a legitimate “Leica” lens, it is. Its just as Marty Feldman while playing Igor would say “Abbynormal”. Now on Earlier Leica cameras there were fewer frame lines and viewfinder magnification was a problem for certain lenses. This is why earlier lenses like the 35mm for the M3 camera had pieces that were put in front of the camera’s viewfinder and its coupled rangefinder.

The Assembly is the first place where this lens gets weird. The fact that the word assembly can be justly applied to this lens should be noted. When I say assembly I am not referring to the painstakingly detailed process of creating the elements and fitting them all together to create a masterfully constructed optical instrument….In effect I am only talking about mounting the lens on the camera. However this is not a simple on-the-fly process like it is with almost any other lens on almost any other camera. First off you remove whatever normal lens you have been using. Then you swallow your pride and mount the viewfinder modification piece (I’m sure there is a more technical name for it). Then you mount the lens. Then you reposition the lens. This is because you have to extend the front part of the barrel to be able to use it as a macro lens. Now is when it really gets weird. So you have mounted the adapter on the camera, you have mounted and position the lens., but your not done. To use this lens in any useful way you have to use the vertical viewfinder adapter for the M9. Now this isn’t a Hasselblad V series camera, or a Rollei TLR, its a Leica M; a rangefinder. You take this weird little piece of metal and glass and you look at it. You see there is a wheel that you can spin and figure out it must be screwed onto something. However you can’t really figure out how to put it on the viewfinder. You then think that somehow you need to take off the rubber piece over the viewfinder. BUT NO! it goes on over it. Getting even stranger after you have screwed this onto your camera, look through it and its everything you don’t want. Confusing and disorienting. However after a little time you get used to it. You get used to it just in time for the novelty value of it to wear off and you to realize there are better ways to spend $5,000.00 in the world of Leica.

now on to the most interesting aspect of the Leica store as well as this article….The Leica S2 review.

THE LEICA S2

At the time that I was in London in Mid-July, I had still not decided what new medium format digital capture system I wanted to upgrade to. It was up in the air between the Leica S2 and the PhaseOne 645DF and IQ180 back. Since then I decided to purchase the IQ180 and it is currently as of 8/3/2011 on order. I mad this decision because for effectively the same price (with the trade in value of my Hasselblad H3Dii-39ms). The S2 is a great camera with a superior sensor to any 35mm Camera and standard sized medium format megapixel count. Anyway back to the point right now, I was at the Leica store admiring all of the lovely Leica M products that I wouldn’t be able to get for the next 100 years because of backorders when I brought up the Leica S2, which I had seen they had multiple examples of on display. The employees were just as eager to show off this system to me, especially after I had expressed interest in it as an upgrade (really more of a sidegrade sensor wise) to my Hasselblad system. Then I was able to play with the Leica S2 and all of its current lenses as if I was in a camera store. I say as if I was in a camera store for a specific reason.

When I say “as if I was in a camera store” because there is a specific way that you look at a camera in a camera store. You are able to touch, hold and use it. Sometimes you may even be able to take it outside, but overall you take some snap shots and then you hold it a while longer while talking to the salesperson and then you either buy it, decide to go home and look at the files, or you don’t buy it. This process is curt and can rarely give you the depth needed to understand the camera and its capabilities and shortcomings. The Leica store employee I was talking to told me that the store also had a professional services division. This means that they had a service center, as well as an office where they had classes and other events for professionals. The employee told me that I could contact someone in their office and would be able to have a studio session with the camera (Leica S2) where I could get a bunch of sample images that I could look at and help to make a decision about the camera. I just want to say one note about this. At no point while I had my demo-session with the camera was there any pressure to buy the camera or any mention at all. I found this particularly interesting and relaxing especially since it is a significant investment and they did go to some trouble to give me the opportunity to have the demo session. At one point I was asked more out of curiosity by the man giving me the demo session where I thought I would buy the camera if I chose it, I told him I would probably by it in New York since thats the closest place to me, and that was the end of that topic it was not mentioned again.

Now onto the Demo session, I contact the man I was told to contact about setting up the demo session and left a voicemail. It turned out he was on vacation with his family however he still contacted me later that day and said that he would not be able to conduct the private demo session himself, but he would find someone else who had extensive knowledge with the camera system who could conduct the demo. He was able to get photographer Ian Farrell to conduct the demo session. He is the man in the picture above. There are other images that can be seen on my flickr through this link: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brianhirschfeldphotography/sets/72157627068534709/ . He was great and was able to talk about the system in detail because he uses it and was able to show off all of the different features that it had available. He also brought some of his Elinchrom quadra lights with him (since the Leica store had sent their lights out for repair) which of course made it a studio and a place where I could get images under controlled lighting to understand the camera better. Then we walked around outside and I was able to get some natural light images as well. Outside we got some looks because it was  a big camera in a young guy/kid’s hands with a grown man behind him carrying the bag. Overall it was a very good experience.

Now onto some thoughts about the camera. In the past I have had the opportunity to hold the Leica S2 in the traditional “camera store” way at Camera Wholesalers in Stamford on a Leica day as well as at PDN PhotoPlus in NYC. These had given me an idea what the camera felt like and how it was built. As is to be expected with any Leica product it was really, really well built. Every part of it felt solid and it is heavy but not too heavy. It is lighter and smaller then any other medium format system as well. In London I had the opportunity to use this camera with the vertical grip. A vertical grip is something that I really like about professional DSLR’s like the D3 and the Ids series of cameras. The Leica S2 and the PhaseOne 645DF are the only current production medium format cameras that have the option available (the older and possibly superior Contax 645AF system had a vertical grip as well). Holding the Leica Vertical grip on its own it felt a bit flimsy however when it was on the camera it felt just right. When I mentioned this to Ian Farrell he agreed with me. He also added that if they created the grip out of metal like the rest of the body of the camera, it would have greatly increased the weight. While it is made of plastic it is still fully weather sealed like the rest of the camera and attaches sturdily to the base of the camera. In pictures it makes the camera look significantly larger however in reality it is less pronounced then it appears in photographs. It works perfectly for what it is. The built quality, ergonomics and basic functionality of this camera are superior in every way to every other system currently available. But it is still not the best camera on the market.

The Image quality is good on this camera. It is not the biggest and best that they have now that there are 60-80mp sensors on the market. When the camera was announced it had a standard sensor for medium format with the highest resolution the 60mp category being lead by PhaseOne’s landmark P65+ (and some impossibly named Leaf equivalent). The camera preforms admirably at all ISO’s. This is something that cannot be said of most medium format DSLR’s which top out their total ISO’s at 800 and their usable ISO’s at 400 typically. The Leica S2 though tops out at 1250 and produces highly usable results at this ISO (see my flickr page for comparison shots of all of the S2′s ISO’s). Here it definitely gets major points. However the complaint I have with it especially after using even higher mega-pixel backs like the PhaseOne P65+ and Hasselblad H4D-50 is that it doesn’t have the same ability to crop the way a 60-80mp sensor would. I found that this can also be said for the 50mp Hasselbald which I will have a review of up soon. The image quality is far better then that of any 35mm DSLR and is on par to better then most medium format sensor’s. The area that differentiates the S2 most from all other cameras is its lenses which effect the image resolution greatly.

In the Leica S2 particularly the lenses are the real show stopper for many reasons; I will focus on a few of the key ones. First off is the fact that is has AUTOFOCUS! This is a first for a Leica Camera. For years the CEO’s and designers had clung to the manual focus mantra. With the Leica R series, a highly underrated system technically speaking (in terms of lenses) however the system largely flopped due to a lack of features. Particularly autofocus which was already standard on the Asian imports. Leica knew that they couldn’t market a Medium format DSLR camera that did not have autofocus to the professional market.  Well they did this and the autofocus system is as good as any other medium format system; which is to say crappy. But if everyone else is crappy and your slightly better then crappy you get points, and they did. The autofocus works just fine, just know its limits and timing. The Leica S-Line of lenses preform better then any other lenses I have ever used. They add so much to the camera it is almost impossible to describe their impact. They make the system and they are the main selling point. Aside from being distortion free (on the wider end) and free of vignetting at all apertures they handle ghosting and flaring amazingly well. The image I show at the beginning of my Leica S2 review section is the perfect example of this. The image was taken with the 35mm Summarit S lens. The composition includes the subject as well as the backlight (there were two lights the key light with umbrella was in front) With other lenses in other systems there would be ghosting and flaring issues from the light (aberrations caused by the light intense light interacting with the lens elements that are recorded with the image). As you can see from this image there is absolutely none. You have to zoom in on the larger quality image (which can be accessed by clicking on the image) where you can zoom in on the light and see how clearly defined the edges of it are. This is truly the magic of the lens design. They are perfectly designed and absolutely perfect, if only they could be used on a PhaseOne 645DF. The only true problem with these lenses is the fact that there are so few of them. Since the Leica S2 is the newest medium format system which was created from scratch. Yes there are a few adapters which can be purchased that allow you to use other lenses like Hasselblad V series lenses on the S2 body. However they are manual focus and there is obviously no communication between the lens and camera. Leica has recently released their own adapters which allow you to use other companies lenses (Mamiya 645, Hasselblad and Pentax). These adapters are decidedly better built and definitely help to expand the system to users of other lenses from their Film cameras. However the system does not have enough lenses at the moment. Hasselblad and Mamiya currently have around 20 lenses available for their cameras respectably. All of these autofocus lenses cover focal lengths from ultra-wide (28mm remember this is medium format) to telephoto (300mm which is equivalent to around 180mm’s in 35mm language). The S2 only has a 35mm, 70mm, 120mm and 180mm lens. Three of these are at the aperture of f/2.5 which is at least a stop faster then many of their counterparts. There are other lenses in the roadmap. From conversation I understand that next will likely be a 28mm ultra-wide, a tilt-shit, and a zoom lens. The system will develop, but that takes time. TIme which is recorded all the time by cameras in split-second increments and if you don’t the capability to do what you want when you want to it is meaningless whether they will be announcing a new lens in the future.

The Leica S2 is a great camera. It is not the best but it serves a specific function which it does better then any other can. The only other camera that defied the traditional medium format form factor that had the sensor built into the body of the camera and they were inseparable was the Mamiya ZD DSLR (google it this way and you will find what I am talking about which isn’t the digital back version). I don’t include the Pentax 645D in this statement because it still has the basic form factor of a medium format DSLR even though it is still self contained. The Mamiya ZD was clunky and difficult to use and consequently did not catch on and that is why you never saw an updated version of it in this form factor. I think the Mamiya ZD was an admirably first effort. It established that this kind of camera could be made and could generate some interest. Leica was able to truly take a risk (particularly financially especially after the disastrous R8/R9) and Leica’s financials since the release of the S2 speak for themselves. While during this time the M9 was also released. The great successes can be seen by the Leica S2′s success. The Leica S2′s success helped to create even more hype around the brand which certainly did not hurt the M system and other optical divisions that share the Leica brand name.

 

Leica Summarit 35mm f/2.5

Originally published: April 3, 2011

In the real world a $1,600 dollar lens is expensive. In Leica land it is the cheapest thing you can buy (the 50mm version might be less actually). This does not mean its bad, quite the con

trary. I got this lens with my Leica M8 when I didn’t know that much about Leica lenses. I knew a lot about DSLR lenses and I knew that and aperture of f/2.8 (f/2.5 really) was pretty damn fast. And it is pretty fast, its just not as fast as some of the other Leica lenses. However this lens shines in a few areas.

Of course it is well built like every Leica lens, full metal construction and the whole 9 yards. This lens is also really small which means it has no viewfinder blockage without the lens hood. The lens hood is an interesting story, if you want this piece of metal to put at the front of the lens, you will have to buy it separately, its not sold with the camera.


I don’t know the image quality always seems fine to me. Some of my favorite images have been taken with it. I have  not had any issues with it. Some people believe that the image quality of the Summicron glass is better, but whatever it works and I’m happy with it. I don’t really understand the purpose of the Summicron series. I don’t see a need for it personally. It works in the longer focal lengths because then it is faster then most short telephoto lenses, however in standard lenses, there really isn’t that much of a difference between an f/1.4 lens and a f/2.0 lens. Ok fine there are differences but it doesn’t matter that much. I wouldn’t bother with a Summicron lens, just step up and go Summilux.

I enjoy shooting this lens, and I have shot it on my Leica M7, M8, M9 and have been pleased with its performance. One of its standout features to me is its size and weight, both of which make shooting with Leica M’s quite enjoyable.